In the December 2023 update #8 on JW.org, Stephen Lett announced that beards are now acceptable for JW men to wear.

Of course, the reaction from the activist community was swift, widespread, and thorough. Everyone had something to say about the absurdity and hypocrisy of the Governing Body’s prohibition on beards that goes back to the Rutherford era. The coverage was so complete, so damning, that I thought of taking a pass on covering the subject on this channel. But then a friend told me of his JW sister’s reaction to the news about men now being allowed to have beards. She gushed about how loving it was of the Governing Body to make this change.

So, if Witnesses consider this to be a loving provision, they are going to assume that the Governing Body is fulfilling Jesus’ command to us that we “love one another; just as I have loved you, you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples…” (John 13:34, 35)

Why would an intelligent person think this change in what is now acceptable grooming for men to be an act of love? Especially given that the Governing Body itself publicly acknowledges that there never was any scriptural basis for the prohibition on beards in the first place. Their only defense is to say that people who wore beards often did so as a sign of rebellion. They’d point to pictures of beatniks and hippies, but that was decades ago. In the 1990s, gone were the suits and ties office staff wore in the 60s. Men started to grow beards and wear open collared shirts to work. That started thirty years ago.  Children were born then, grew up, had children of their own. Two generations! And now, suddenly, the men claiming to be guided by Jehovah’s holy spirit to serve as Christ’s faithful and discreet slave have only just come to the realization that they were imposing a rule that never had any basis in Scripture in the first place?

And so, lifting their ban on beards in 2023 is supposedly a loving provision? Give me a break!

If they were really motivated by the love of Christ, then wouldn’t they have lifted their ban as soon as beards became socially acceptable in the 1990s? Actually, a true Christian shepherd—which is what the Governing Body claims to be—would have never imposed any such restriction at all. He would have allowed each one of Christ’s disciples to act according to their own conscience. Did not Paul say, “For why should my freedom be judged by another person’s conscience?” (1 Corinthians 10:29)

The Governing Body have presumed to rule over the consciences of every Jehovah’s Witness for decades!

This is self-evident!

So, why don’t Witnesses admit that to themselves? Why credit those men with love when their motivation must be something else?

What we are describing here is characteristic of an abusive relationship. This isn’t my opinion. It is God’s. Oh, yes. Unlike the GBs prohibition on beards, what I say does have a basis in Scripture. Let’s read it from the Governing Body’s very own Bible version, the New World Translation.

Here we find Paul, rebuking the Christians in Corinth by reasoning with them this way: “Since you are so “reasonable,” you gladly put up with the unreasonable ones. In fact, you put up with whoever enslaves you, whoever devours your possessions, whoever grabs what you have, whoever exalts himself over you, and whoever strikes you in the face.” (2 Corinthians 11:19, 20)

By enforcing restrictions on everything from career and work choices, education levels, right down to what type of clothing to wear and how a man can groom his face, the Governing Body has “enslaved you,” Jehovah’s Witnesses. They have “devoured your possessions” and “exalted themselves over you” claiming that your eternal salvation depends on giving them your full support and obedience. And should you challenge them by not being compliant to their rules on anything, including dress and grooming, they get their minions, the local elders, “to strike you in the face,” using coercive tactics and threats of shunning.

The Apostle Paul is referring to men in the Corinthian congregation whom he calls “superfine apostles” who tried to rule over the flock as their leaders. Paul is obviously describing here what is a very abusive relationship within the congregation. And now we see it replicated in the relationship between the Governing Body and the rank-and-file of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Isn’t it typical in such a relationship that the abused party doesn’t break free, but instead seeks to find favor with his or her abuser? As Paul puts it, “you gladly put up with the unreasonable ones”.  The Berean Standard Bible renders it, “For you gladly tolerate fools…”

Abusive relationships are always self-destructive, and how can we get our loved ones who are trapped in such a relationship to realize the danger they are in?

An abuser will make his victims think that there is nothing better out there, that they have it best with him. Outside there is only darkness and despair. He’ll claim that what he is providing is “The Best Life Ever.” Does that sound familiar?

If your JW friends and family are convinced of that, they won’t feel motivated to look for a non-abusive and healthy way of life. They won’t make any comparison, but if they’ll allow you to speak to them, perhaps you can compare the actions of the Governing Body with actions and teachings of Jesus, “the way, the truth, and the life”. (John 14:6)

But we won’t stop with Jesus because we also have the Apostles to compare men like Stephen Lett with. That means we can measure the Governing Body against the imperfect men like Paul, Peter, and John and so take away the Organization’s cheap cop-out that all men are imperfect and make mistakes, so there’s no need for them to apologise or acknowledge wrongdoing.

To begin, I’m going to show you a short video from a fellow Beroean (a critical thinker). This comes from “Jerome YouTube channel.” I’ll put a link to his channel it in the description of this video.

“Our primary allegiance is to Jehovah God. Now the Governing Body realizes that if we were to give some direction that is not in harmony with God’s word, all of Jehovah’s witnesses worldwide who have the Bible would notice that, and they would see that there’s wrong direction. So we have a responsibilities as guardians to make sure that every think is scripturally acceptable.

Really?

The governing body does not have an issue with brothers wearing beards. Why not? Because the scriptures do not condemn the wearing of beards.

If so, then why, previous to this announcement, were beards prohibited? Did anyone question this wrong direction from the governing body?

If so, how were they dealt with?”

I can answer that.

And let me be clear, this is not speculation. I’m talking hard evidence from my own personal experience—a folder full of correspondence with the Organization dating back to the 70s. And I also know they keep a copy of all that correspondence because I’ve seen it.

What happens if you write the local branch office a letter respectfully arguing against some published doctrinal interpretation that is not supported in Scripture, like the prohibition on beards?

What happens is that you’ll get a reply that repeats the faulty reasoning they’ve published without actually addressing your own scriptural arguments. But you’ll also get some soothing boilerplate text exhorting you to be patient, “to wait on Jehovah,” and to trust the slave.

If you are not discouraged by their non-answer and so write in a second time asking them to just answer your question from the last letter, which they ignored, you’ll get a second letter with more personal boilerplate counsel telling you again in more emphatic terms that you need to just “wait on Jehovah,” as if he’s involved in the whole affair, to be patient, and to trust in his channel. They’ll still find some way to sidestep your question.

If you write in a third time and say something like, “Thank you, brothers, for all the unsolicited counsel, but could you please just answer the question I asked from Scripture?” You likely won’t get a reply letter. Instead, you’ll get a visit from your local elders and possibly the circuit overseer with copies of all the correspondence you’ve had with the Organization up to that point in time. Again, I’m speaking from experience.

All their responses are intimidation tactics to get you to be quiet because you have a point backed up by Scripture they cannot disprove. But instead of willingly changing their—how did Geoffrey Jackson put it to the Royal commission, oh yes—instead of willingly changing their “wrong direction”, you will be threatened with the removal of your privileges in the congregation, of being marked, or even of being disfellowshipped.

In short, they enforce compliance with their so-called “loving provisions” with and through intimidation tactics based on fear.

John tells us:

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love throws fear outside, because fear exercises a restraint. Indeed, he that is under fear has not been made perfect in love. As for us, we love, because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:18, 19)

This is not a Scripture that describes the way the Organization works, wouldn’t you agree?

Now we’ll get back to Jerome’s video and see an example of how the Governing Body cherry-picks a Bible verse and misapplies it so as to lend themselves the illusion of Scriptural support. They do this all the time.

“…this is what I’ve been saying for a long time. This proves that I was right all along. Note what the apostle Paul was inspired to write at 1 Corinthians, chapter 1 and verse number 10. Now I urge you, brothers, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you should all speak in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you may be completely united in the same mind and in the same line of thought. How does that principle apply here? Well, if we’ve been promoting our own opinion—[but how is pointing to what the Bible says, a promoting of one’s own opinion] on this subject contradicting the guidance from the Organization? Have we been promoting unity? Have we helped the brotherhood to be completely united in the same line of thought? Clearly not. Any who’ve done so need to adjust their thinking and attitude.

[But where does the Bible say God requires people to be obedient to the unscriptural opinion of men?]

“Our primary allegiance is to Jehovah God.”

“So just to let that sink in. Sink in. Sink in.”

“From a study of biblical and secular evidence, we can conclude that the Pharisees thought highly of themselves as guardians of the public good and the national welfare. They were not satisfied that God’s law was fundamentally clear and easily understood. Wherever the law seemed to them to be unspecific, they sought to plug apparent gaps with defined applications. To eliminate any need for conscience, these religious leaders attempted to devise a precept to govern conduct in all issues, even trivialities.”

Did you notice the three thoughts Lett emphasized in his reading of 1 Corinthians 1:10? To repeat them,  “speak in agreement,” “there should be no divisions,” and “you should be completely united”.

The Governing Body loves to cherry-pick 1 Corinthians 1:10 to promote being united in their one line of thought, but they don’t look at the context, because that would undermine their argument.

The reason Paul wrote those words is explained in verse 12:

“What I mean is this, that each one of you says: “I belong to Paul,” “But I to Apollos,” “But I to Cephas,” “But I to Christ.” Is the Christ divided? Paul was not executed on the stake for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:12, 13)

Let’s play a little word substitution game, shall we? The Organization loves to write letters to the Bodies of Elders. So let’s replace Paul’s name with the name JW.org. It would go like this:

“What I mean is this, that each one of you says: “I belong to JW.org,” “But I to Apollos,” “But I to Cephas,” “But I to Christ.” Is the Christ divided? JW.org was not executed on the stake for you, was it? Or were you baptized in the name of JW.org?” (1 Corinthians 1:12, 13)

Dear Jehovah’s Witness, if you were baptised in 1985, you were indeed baptized in the name of JW.org, at least as it was known then. As part of your baptismal vow questions, you were asked: “Do you understand that your baptism identifies you as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in association with Jehovah’s organization?”

This change replaced the phrase “Do you understand that your baptism identifies you as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in association with God’s spirit-directed organization?”

The Apostles baptized in the name of Christ Jesus, but the Organization baptizes in its own name, the name of “JW.org.” They are doing the very thing Paul condemned the Corinthians for doing. So, when Paul exhorts the Corinthians to speak in the same line of thought, he’s referring to the mind of Christ, not that of those superfine apostles. Stephen Lett wants you to speak in the same line of thought as the Governing Body, who do not have nor reflect the mind of Christ.

Paul told the Corinthians that they belonged to the Christ, not to some organization. (1 Corinthians 3:21)

The unity—actually, an enforced conformity—that Lett is extolling is not an identifying mark of true Christians because it is not based on love. Being united only counts if we are united with Christ.

By imposing their collective conscience onto the flock, the Governing Body have actually created egregious divisions and have stumbled faithful ones. Their decades-long prohibition on beards was no trivial thing that can be dismissed without acknowledging the enormous harm it has caused to so many. Let me give you a case in point from my own personal history.

Back in the  1970s, I attended a Kingdom hall on Christie Street in Toronto, Ontario, Canada that hosted two congregations, one English and one I attended, the Spanish Barcelona congregation. Our meeting was on Sunday morning just before the English meeting and so I often got to hobnob with many of the English friends who came early because the Spanish brothers and sisters loved to hang around after our meeting to socialize. The Christie congregation, being located in a part of downtown Toronto that was very multicultural then, was easy going and happy. It wasn’t your typical, conservative English congregation like the kind I grew up in. I became good friends with one of the elders there who was my age.

Well, one day he and his wife returned from a long vacation. He’d taken the opportunity to grow a beard and frankly, it suited him. His wife wanted him to keep it. He only intended to wear it once to the meeting, and then to shave it off, but so many complemented him on it that he decided to keep it. Another elder, Marco Gentile, grew one, and then a third elder, the late, great Frank Mott-Trille, the renowned Canadian lawyer who won cases on behalf of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada to establish freedom of religious rights in the nation.

So now there were three elders with beards and three without.

Accusations were made that the three elders with beards were causing stumbling. This is because the Organization has trained the brothers and sisters to think that anything or anyone that deviates from GB policy is a cause for stumbling. This is yet another misapplication of Scripture employed for years by the Watchtower Society to enforce its will. It overlooks the context of Paul’s argument in Romans 14 which defines what he means by “stumbling”. It is not a synonym for offending. Paul is talking about doing things that would cause a fellow Christian to leave Christianity and return to Pagan worship. Seriously, would growing a beard cause someone to abandon the Christian congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and shuffle off to become a Muslim?

“…And that there should be no divisions among you, but that you may be completely united in the same mind and in the same line of thought. How does that principle apply here? Well, if we’ve been promoting our own opinion on this subject, have we been promoting unity? Have we helped the brotherhood to be completely united in the same line of thought? Clearly not.”

What if we now apply Lett’s reasoning to the Governing Body itself? Here’s what it would sound like if Lett were to put the Governing Body under the same magnifying glass that he uses for everyone else.

So, if we are promoting our own opinion, or…or…if we are promoting the opinion of others, like the men of the Governing Body, then we are sure to cause division.

Returning to my real-life example of what happened when the three Pharisee-like elders promoted the personal opinion of the Governing Body on beards, I can start by telling you that the beautiful and thriving Christie Congregation of Toronto is no more. It was dissolved by the Canada Branch over forty years ago. Did the three bearded elders cause that or was it caused by the three elders promoting the opinion of the Governing Body?

Here’s what happened.

The three clean shaven elders, who believed they were acting in accordance with the will of God, managed to get about half the congregation to side with them. The three bearded elders were not making a political statement. They were just enjoying their freedom of expression and the hassle of shaving.

This was no campaign to get everyone else to convert to wearing beards. However, the beardless ones were on a campaign to get the congregation to label the bearded elders as dissident rebels.

The beardless elders managed to force the removal the youngest of the bearded ones, Marco Gentile. He eventually left the Organization altogether because of the emotional pressure and caustic atmosphere. My good friend, who unintentionally started the whole thing by coming to the hall wearing a beard after returning from vacation, left the Christie congregation and joined me in the Spanish congregation. He had suffered a nervous breakdown years before as a special pioneer, and the emotional stress he was experiencing was threatening to cause him a relapse.  Remember, this is all about facial hair.

Our third elder friend had enough as well and left to join another congregation to be at peace.

So now, if the Holy Spirit was truly approving of the Organization’s opinion that men should go without beards, it would begin to flow freely, and the Christie congregation would again return to the happy state it once enjoyed. The bearded elders were gone, the legalistic beardless ones remained, and…it all went downhill from there.  Oh, the Canada Branch did what it could. It even sent in Tom Jones, the former branch overseer in Chile, but even his august presence was not enough to get the spirit restored to the flagging Christie congregation. Within a short time, the branch dissolved it.

How could it be that the Christie congregation never recovered after the so-called causes for stumbling were gone? Could it be that beards were never the problem? Could it be that the real cause for division and stumbling was trying to get everyone to conform to an enforced uniformity?

Finally, we need to ask ourselves: Why now? Why this change of policy now, decades too late? Indeed, why are they making all the changes that have been announced at and since the October 2023 annual meeting? It’s not out of love, that’s for sure.

We will explore the reasons behind these policy and doctrinal changes t in the final video of the annual meeting series.

Until then, thank you for your time and for your financial support.

Meleti Vivlon

Articles by Meleti Vivlon.
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